The pope thinks I’m selfish.

Because I don’t feel enough pressure to have children from my parents, friends, the Church and society, the pontiff recently weighed in on my need to breed… or lack thereof.

In a speech in February, he proclaimed: “A society with a greedy generation, that doesn’t want to surround itself with children, that considers them above all worrisome, a weight, a risk, is a depressed society… The choice to not have children is selfish.”

Oh dear.

I heard about this speech shortly after reading a piece by a pastor in New York entitled “10 Women Christian Men Should Not Marry.” Number seven was the “Childbirth Avoider”.

This pastor advises: “Do not marry a woman who is not willing to have children of her own. In the Christian worldview, there is absolutely no room for two married, biologically capable, human beings to remain intentionally child-less. If you are adverse towards having children, then there’s a simple remedy for that: single-hood.”

I had little idea that my choice to be child-less was so controversial. I do know that it raises eyebrows.

In a rather awful film called The Women, Annette Bening’s character says to Meg Ryan’s character: “Do you know that’s the last impermissible thing you can say at a dinner party? That you don’t want children?”

I don’t know that I’ve ever silenced a dinner party by revealing my refusal to procreate, but I have heard a few audible gasps at a church potluck or two. These gasps are usually followed by a knowing: “You’ll change your mind.” That’s the most frequent response, though I’ve also heard: “You don’t understand love until you have children.” Seriously? “Who will take care of you when you’re old?”Yikes! And: “But you’d be such a great mother,” ok that one is actually pretty sweet, but it often comes from someone who doesn’t really know me that well and who doesn’t realise I used to microwave my Barbie dolls.

Mostly people just want to know why. Why on earth wouldn’t I want kids?

To be honest, I’m pretty sure I grew up just assuming I’d have children one day. I’m familiar with Bible verses that talk about full quivers, fruitful wombs and being saved through childbirth. But as long as we’re being honest, I don’t think I’ve ever felt genuinely compelled in a maternal direction – and believe me, I’ve sniffed more than my share of baby heads. I’ve watched in awe as my younger sibling and my close friends have become parents and as their social media feeds re-focused from late night parties to late night feeds. I have incredible godchildren. I would dearly love to be a part of a moment when I tell my parents that they are going to be grandparents again.

But to do so would be to perform in a role I don’t want to play.

When people ask why I don’t have or want children, I don’t really mind. When they ask if I think I might regret my choice on day, I say: “Maybe.” After all how could I know? But I’m not sure fear of regret is any better motivation for having children than peer pressure.

However, I do find the question curious. After all, I rarely hear men get asked it. And I never, ever hear people ask parents the converse: So why *did* you decide to have kids? The absence of this question can make those of us who don’t have children, either by choice or chance, feel abnormal… particularly in church, where so much energy is focussed on creating “family activities.” Not that these are bad, but not everyone fits—or even wants to fit—that mould.

I don’t believe you have to have children in order to love children. I can’t see how giving birth is the litmus test for real womanhood. And I don’t think every woman is meant to be a mother.

I am willing to concede that maybe I am selfish for not adopting or fostering. But if I ever decide to do so, it won’t be for my parents or for a pastor in New York. Or for the pope.

Written by Naomi Rose Steinberg // Follow Naomi on  Twitter

Naomi Rose Steinberg lives in Oxford. She works in communications for a charity and does a bit of music reviewing on the side. Some days she wishes it were the other way around.

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